About the course

This is the course blog for Brown’s AMST2650, Introduction for Public Humanities, a graduate seminar that considers some of the big questions in the public humanities to provide a background to help understand the choices made in preserving, interpreting, and presenting art, history and culture. We address these issues by reading and talking about history and theory, and considering case studies to see how theory plays out in practice. We’ll also consider contemporary issues and projects, applying theory and comparing them with historical examples.

The course is organized into three parts. An Introduction introduces the seminar participants to each other and to Brown University and some of its history, and to historical thinking. Part 1 introduces the idea of the public and the public sphere and consider the ways that these ideas manifest in space and history, In Part 2, we’ll consider the ways that public humanists work with the public. What is the place of expertise and insider knowledge? Part 3 focuses on the role we, as public humanities professionals, play in shaping, sharing, and interpreting public memories. What is our relationship with the public?



Week 1 (September 5) Brown and Slavery

We’ll also introduce ourselves and talk about the course. Introduction to the Providence memorials project.

Week 2 (September 12) – Past and present

Questions: What is history? Who “makes” history? How does power and difference shape historical narrative? What history is remembered, and why?

Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, the Report of the Commission on Memorials, and other material on the Slavery and Justice website. In class we’ll visit the memorial and talk about it.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995)

Part 1: The Public Sphere and Public Space

Week 3 (September 19) – Memorials and Public Space

Questions: How are myths made? What role does denial/myth/nostalgia play in historical memory? How do memorials capture, create, and freeze memories?

Dell Upton, What can and can’t be said: Race, uplift and monument building in the contemporary South (2015)

Mitch Landrieu, “Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans,” New York Times, May 23, 2017

Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Counci has Voted to Move it,” Memory Palace podcast

Rebecca Carter, “Valued Lives in Violent Places: Black Urban Placemaking at a Civil Rights Memorial in New Orleans,” City and Society (2014) 26: 239–261. doi:10.1111/ciso.12042

James Young, “The Stages of Memory at Ground Zero: The National 9/11 Memorial Process,” The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between, pp. 19-77  ??

Monument lab. Read their newspapers.

Week 4 (September 26) The Public Sphere

Questions:  How have cultural theorists defined the word “public”? What are your assumptions about “public” and the way this term is defined/used? How do different institutions (government, museums, grassroots, libraries, academia) define “public”? Visit from

Jennifer Barrett, Museums and the Public Sphere (2011)

Michael Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics,” Public Culture 14, no. 1 (2002): 49–90, or abridged version

Jürgen Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964),” New German Critique, no. 3 (1974).

Visit from Stacy Kastner, Writing Center. CHECK

Week 5 (October 3) The Arts, the Public, and Public Space?

Issues of community cultural development, gentrification: How do arts and arts organizations help or hurt urban communities? How do they tell the story of community?

Werth A., and Marienthal E., “ ‘Gentrification’ as a grid of meaning: On bounding the deserving public of Oakland First Fridays,” City,  20  (5), 2016, pp. 719-736.

Gates, T. & Mitchell, W. (2016). Art And Public life: A Conversation. ASAP/Journal 1(1), 51-76.

Dwight Conquergood, “Introduction” and “Life in Big Red,” from Cultural Struggles

Catherine FennellThe Museum of Resilience: Raising a Sympathetic Public in Postwelfare Chicago,” Cultural Anthropology 27, no. 4 (November 2012): 641–66.

Maya Dukmasova, “The National Public Housing Museum’s long journey home,” Chicago Reader,

National Public Housing Museum website

Reimaging the Civic Commons

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Part 2: Working with the Public

Week 6 (October 10) Thinking about community

Questions: What is community, and who determines that?

Miranda Joseph, Against the Romance of Community [ADD chapters]

Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art, Chapter 2 “Community”

Funeral for a Home (website,  grant proposal, and related publications)


Week 7 (October 17) – Contact Zones

Question: Connecting across cultures. Looking into the frameworks and processes through which museums and institutions handle cross-cultural interactions, cultural appropriation provides a lens into a difficult emotional and legal responses. What is the responsibility of institutions to the communities they study and display? How do institutions understand and discuss cultural “ownership,” appreciation, and parody of culture?

James Clifford “Museums as Contact Zones” in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, 1997.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Whose Culture is it?” in the New York Review of Books, Vol. 53, No. 2, Feb. 9, 2006.

“Introduction,” in Richard Kurin, Reflections of a Culture Broker (1997)

Lisa Gilbert, “’Loving, Knowing Ignorance’: A Problem for the Educational Mission of Museums,” in Curator 59:2 (2016)

“Ask a Slave” and Interpreting Race on Public History’s Front Line,” interview with Azie Mira Dungey, The Public Historian 36:1, February 2014


Week 8 (October 24) Shared Authority/Engagement/Participation

What are the ethical obligations of an institution to the public(s) it serves? How can we balance the need for institutional authority with dialogic forms of learning? In what context is one more appropriate than the other and how much is everyone supposed to “get”?

Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, Laura Koloski, Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (2011)

Pew Center for Art and Culture, Push Me, Pull You: Questions of Co-authorship

The Hammer Museum’s “Public Engagement” site is a useful resource

Week 9 (October 31) Working with community

Glenn Wharton, The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawaii

View/read interviews at PCAH’s Social & Community-Based Practices and Co-Authorship pages

———-> November 22:  Holiday – No Class

Part 3: Being Public

Week 10 (November 7) Accessibility

How to create inclusive, visitor-centered experiences that engage the public? Knowing the public and knowing the value of public humanities work, what steps do institutions need to take to reimagine and engage their communities?

Nina Simon, The Art of Relevance (2016)

Stephanie N. Stallings and Bronwyn Mauldin, Public Engagement in the Arts: A Review of Recent Literature

“Making Museums Work for Visitors” in John H. Falk, Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience (2009)

Week 11 (November 14) – Representing Ourselves

Working through the concepts of exoticization, “other”, and objectivity, consider how empathy fits into the access and understanding of a culture. How do we use empathy – cognitive and affective – to contextualize histories? How do we use empathy to understand and contextualize others? How do we use empathy to understand and contextualize ourselves?

Jennifer Gonzales, Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).

Fusco, Coco, Paula Heredia, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. The Couple in the Cage: A Guatianaui Odyssey. Chicago, Ill.: Video Data Bank, 200.

Tanya Brugera, Tatlin’s Whisper #5 (view on youtube)

–no class November 21 – Thanksgiving holiday

Week 12 (November 28) Public Humanities and Activism

Questions: Is public humanities just activism by a different name? How do politics, personal and professional, shape the work of public humanists? What’s the contact between aesthetic and political innovation? How can we be radical, how radical do we want to be, and what kind of radical best serves our purposes?

Ruth Sergel, See You in the Streets: Art, Action, and Remembrance (2016)

Filene, Benjamin, “Passionate Histories: ‘Outsider’ History-Makers and What They Teach Us,” The Public Historian, 34 (2012), 11–33


December 1-2 – Possible  visit to New York City: Tenement Museum, Museum of the Chinese in America, Black Gotham experience, and/or Museum of the City of New York

Week 13 (December 5) The Academic Politics of Public Humanities

Mary Mullen, “Public Humanities’ (Victorian) Culture Problem,” Cultural Studies, 2014

Mellon Foundation Annual Report, 2017

National Association of Scholars, Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics, 2017

National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, 2012

Imagining America, About and Initiatives and your choice of publications

Week 14 (December 12) Wrap-up and Project Report